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  1. Technology
April 8, 1987


By CBR Staff Writer

This combination of RISC technology and graphics performance and functionality make the Iris-4D Series the first superworkstation family to offer users the fourth dimension of real-time speed and responsiveness. These systems redefine the market for high-performance 3D computing. Rosalie Buonaro is clearly very excited by the new three-dimensional workstations introduced by Silicon Graphics Inc the other day (CI No 647), but since Prime Computer Inc introduced a three dimensional workstation based on the same processor on the same day, it will have to be left to the market to decide who has used the MIPS Computer Inc Reduced Instruction Set Processor to better effect. The Iris-4D Series is rated by the Mountain View, California company at seven times the venerable VAX-11/780, which is a lot of graphics processing power. The first member of the Iris-4D Series is the Iris 4D/60, a 12-slot workstation featuring a the RISC processor sub-system from MIPS Computer Systems, Sunnyvale. The subsystem includes an 8MHz 32-bit processor, which offers up to three times the computing performance of Silicon Graphics’ previous product family, the Iris 3100 Series. The graphics performance of the Iris 4D/60 is also enhanced by incorporation of 38 custom and semicustom graphics processors into the design. The 4D/60 is claimed to perform 140,000 three-dimensional 32-bit floating point transformations per second and renders over 4,500 100-pixel polygons per second with smooth shading and hidden surface removal. The Iris 4D/60 rendering of solid objects is over five times faster than for the Iris 3100 Series, providing dynamic motion of solid objects and greater on-screen realism and accuracy. The company sees these features as crucial for applications such as mechanical computer-aided engineering animation, molecular modelling and industrial design. Features of the 4D/60 include 24 colour bit-planes providing more than 16m colours; four user-accessible system planes for overlay and underlay, menu and windowing functions; what the company claims is the only 24-bit Z-buffer available now on an engineering workstation, enabling hidden surface removal with much greater accuracy and realism for complex real world solid objects; high-level primitives such as splines and surfaces for more accurate renderings; and a multi-mode graphics windowing environment, allowing multiple applications which use different display modes, such as 12-bit versus 24-bit colour, single versus double buffered operation and Z-buffer, to run concurrently in overlapping windows. The Iris 4D/60 includes as standard 4Mb CPU memory; eight colour bit-planes for 256 colours; four system planes for overlay and underlay functions, a Weitek Inc floating point accelerator board; a 170Mb ESDI disk drive and controller; 19 1,280 by 1,024 60Hz non-interlaced colour monitor; keyboard and mouse; and floor-standing chassis with 12 VME slots and a 1,000-watt power supply. Hardware options include up to 12Mb of CPU memory, up to 24 colour bit-planes, 24-bit Z-buffer, Ethernet controller, quarter inch and half inch tape controllers and a second 170Mb disk drive.

Twin towers

The Iris 4D/60 supports RD-170A video output, with Genlooking and NTSC colour encoding capabilities, and a variety of colour hard copy output devices. The new Iris 4D/60’s Graphics Library is software-compatible with the Iris 3100 line for easy transfer of existing applications. The workstations include Unix System V 3.0 with Silicon Graphics’ Extent File System for fast file access and handling, an optimising C compiler, window manager and the Graphics Library. Software options include TCP/IP, an optimising Fortran compiler and Sun Microsystems’ Network File System for transparent file sharing in a heterogeneous network of computers. The Iris-4D series is housed in a twin tower package, the first tower being a 12-slot VME board card cage incorporating all the CPU, graphics and controller boards. The second tower includes the power supply and stackable peripheral modules, which can be removed in secure environme

nts. The company says that to differentiate the new family of superworkstations, the products are packaged in slate grey cases complimented with raspberry trim. First ships are set for this month to key OEM and value-added reseller customers, with volume shipments following in June. The Iris 4D/60 lists at $74,900 in basic configuration.

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